Business, Management

8 Quick Tips to Manage Creative Teams and People

Creative Teamwork
credit: Creative Sustainability (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I manage creative teams at our game studio and work with many independent game and app developers, people who passionately and happily spend their free time turning their impulsive ideas into playable experiences. They are programmers that can’t stop tinkering, and artists that can’t stop drawing (or modelling, animating…etc.) — highly talented people that live for creating and crafting their art.

These tend to be the most motivated bunch, and they also tend to have deep domain expertise because they have spent not just their work hours on improving their skills but also their precious evenings and weekends. I am often amazed at how talented these people are, and if you spend even just seconds talking to them, you soon realise how addicted they are to their tools, their thoughts, and their creations.

They can also be some of the most difficult people you’ll manage.

Why? Let’s look at some of the overlapping traits of many highly creative people:
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Business, Games

Calculating the Game Engine Market Size – Determine the Market Size for Game Engine Software

U-Boat Diesel Engine

This question on Quora “How do I determine the consumer market size for game engine software?” peaked my interest. Here’s my reply:

Determine the game engine market size


Before we start estimating the market size for game engines, let’s decide exactly what we want to find out – is it the VALUE game engines generate, or the REVENUE?

REVENUE is the about of money spent on game engines, VALUE is how much value, in dollar-terms, game engines create. VALUE is the REVENUE potential for the game engine industry. (Note: it is possible for REVENUE to exceed VALUE if the value chain around the industry has the capacity for it.) REVENUE is determined by how much of that value is captured by game engine companies today.

For example, you hire a personal assistant to help you draft an email. You pay the assistant $25 for drafting the email, which would have taken you half an hour if you were to write it yourself during your work day. If you make $120 per hour during work hours, the personal assistant has saved you half an hour – which has the value of $120×0.5hr=$60 (VALUE generated by assistant). However you only paid the assistant $25 for the work (REVENUE).

So in this example, for the “email drafting market by this PA” is:

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Business, Life, Technology

Things I Learned in an English Village


Due to an unforeseen event, I am staying in a village in the heart of England for an extended period of time. For someone who has lived in big cities primarily, the village life is new to me. The buzzing streets and rush hour traffic jams are replaced by endless green fields, horses on the road, and farm/wild animals. A different way of life, and plenty of lessons for the technology-obsessed me: 

  • Location-based social network: everybody knows everybody, and there’s no secret in the village. News of the accident (see first link above) spread from the local pub to everyone in the village. Word-of-mouth in its truest form. The benefit of knowing everyone is that there’s a built-in reputation system as well – you know who to trust to be a genuine news source, and who are the gossipers. The close-knit hyper-personal network is one that’s hard to emulate – the more local it is, the more personal it gets, a challenge all location-based mobile social networks have to overcome.  
  • Farmville in the garden: real-life trees and flowers have a calming effect. I didn’t get to click on icons to pick up rewards or coins, but the benefits are immediate and obvious to my senses – something one day biometric devices will probably be able to measure, and eventually come to the same result that we are better off spending time close to nature (and we all enjoy gardening – a creative activity of putting in efforts, growing a product, and seeing the blossoming results.) The social game aspect is also in place. You invite neighbors to your garden, which gives you a spirit booster. When you leave home for a vacation, the neighbors come around and help you water the flowers – keep ing them from withering. The game session is a lot longer – months/years as opposed to seconds, but you get to play a lot longer without constantly inserting coins. Can social games be designed to strengthen friendship and player loyalty via longer play sessions? 
  • UX at charity shops: used goods are donated to charity shops, where they are cleaned up, categorized, and sold, with proceeds going to charity. The practice exists elsewhere, but the charity shops in the English countryside are nicely decorated and present themselves as boutique stores – which helps with the public’s perception of these shops, and there’s no taboo in buying used clothes and goods. Instead of feeling cheap when shopping at a used good store, you are proud to support local charities and the UX reenforces that with a nice decor and information about the charities you are supporting. A good UX can dramatically change consumer perception and behavior. 
  • To create and to gift: People make chutney, cordial, pies, cakes…etc. (and often give fruit and veg from each other’s gardens), to gift to each other. They don’t do it for money, they do it for fun – the joy is in the making and the learning. Give your users ways to express themselves creatively, to gift their work, and to learn to get better at making things. Additionally, the gifting culture contributes to building a strong local social network (see first point). User-generated-content systems can benefit from focusing on both creative tools and a positive gifting culture to encourage more creative activities.
  • Remember life: A baby pigeon fell out of a tree in the garden last week, and injured its wing. We tried feeding it food and water, but the inevitable still happened. On the day it died, an adult pigeon sat on the lawn near the body for an entire day, as if it were mourning. Seeing the adult pigeon sitting there made my heart sink. No amount of technical advancement should stop you from remembering life – friends, family, love. Treat users as humans and remember at the end of the day what matters most.

And it’s time to water the neighbor’s garden again. I might try picking some tomatoes while I’m there, and learn to make ketchup. 

Business, Life

Sometimes, All We Need is a Pair of Wooden Sticks

We work with technology.

We love our smartphones and tablets and thin light air-inspired laptops.

We love the shiny new app that makes everything faster, easier, cheaper, and more stable, more secure, more intuitive.

We love the new features with the upcoming version that promises to automate everything we don't want to do, to turn us effortlessly into amazing artists, photographers, programmers, designers, to create things magically with a click of a button.

We love technology – everything new and exciting and trendy and next-gen.

So we can't stop reading about technology. We can't stop wanting to know more about the next great tool that's gonna make our lives easier. We can't stop downloading and installing and toying with trials version of apps that do the same thing differently. We can't stop comparing and debating which feature from one app is better than the rest but lacks the time-saving features from that app and that other app. We can't stop signing up for new web services that connects to all our social networks and devices and APIs and clouds and storage space and computing power to help us product management better, business strategy better, brainstorming better, saving money better, presentation better, social media marketing web3.0 mobile smart competition user-friendliness wow factor better. We can't stop reading reviews, and we can't stop arguing with ourselves in the comments.

We can't stop. We can't stop shopping for tools. We can't stop shopping for tools to actually quiet down and use them.

Shopping for the sharpest sword doesn't make us great swordsmen. Reading about beautiful products we can create with new tools doesn't make us great craftsmen. Watching new announcements from tool makers doesn't make us better creators.

Tools are meant to be practiced, not browsed or toyed with. Great tools help tremendously. But if we want to be great at using tools instead of being great at finding them, sometimes we just need to pick one and get going with it.

Sometimes, all we need is a simple pair of wooden sticks to get the job done.

Black chopsticks



Business, Games

Stop Trying to Make an Angry Birds. Build a Rovio

Jaakko Iisalo, Senior Game Designer at Rovio Mobile

You see Angry Birds generating millions of downloads, becoming an international sensation out of nowhere. You say to yourself, heck, I can make that too. So off you go, building the next physics based puzzle game with cutesy animal characters. Three months after the release, you realize your game is not going to be the next Angry Birds. You run out of steam and capital and close up shop.

“What went wrong?” you ask. “I did everything right, followed exactly how Rovio built Angry Birds.”

Except Rovio didn’t set out to build an Angry Birds. Rovio built out their team and talent in the mobile game space several years before they had Angry Birds.

When you try to build an Angry Birds, you set short term goals, take short-cuts, and dream of a quick payout.

It’s a great plan to make a lot of money quickly when it works. But for the majority of us, it won’t work out that way. You won’t have downloads in the millions, maybe not even thousands. The market will crush you like an angry tide over novice surfers.

Build a Rovio. Have a long term goal. Have a vision. Set a direction and build out a team you can continue working with – internally and externally. Counting on one game to make it big, you’ll only have one shot. Counting on a group of talents, you have a lifetime of opportunities.


Business, Games

The Opportunists and the Craftsmen

Graffiti Artists at Work 1

I had an anger inside, much like Nick in the sitcom New Girl with a persistent, almost comical, fire burning internally.

It took me some time to realize what I was angry about – an anger stemmed from the sharp contrast I’ve observed between the Opportunists and the Craftsmen.

I operate in two related yet different worlds – the passionate, enthusiastic intellectual developer community, and the financially motivated fast-talking business world. Each group has its own sub-groups and individualities, and some developers are very business-savvy while some business people are very product focused. But if you pick one person from each group and put them in a room, it wouldn’t take you half a second to know which world they belong. In the developer community, people talk about technology, tools, interaction and experience design. In the business community, people talk about money, markets, and opportunities.

When you get people from both worlds working seamlessly together, it’s a wonderful sight. The craftsman-like developers work their magic in creating the best products the world has yet to see, while the businessmen find the markets and convince the world to get behind the ideas. It’s the pairing of Steve Jobs + Steve Wozniak, Masaru Ibuka + Akio Morita. It has made their companies a fortune, and the consumers satisfied.

The matching of the best craftsmen and the best businessmen doesn’t happen often. The matching of profit-seeking Opportunists and the perception of opportunity however, is plenty. With every new platform and marketplace, a new wave of marketers comes in for the gold rush from eBay, mobile apps, eBooks, Facebook apps …etc., often armed with cheap products and knockoffs flooding the market.

Some of them make a fortune from it by exploiting the inefficiencies in the marketplace and the labor market. There is demand for cheap alternatives to LV handbags, Grand Theft Autos, Angry Birds, and a skilled Opportunist can extract value by hiring the cheapest labor and creating low-quality products to serve the low end of market.

There is value in that. This is why we have dollar stores and fast food chains. Low barriers to entry commoditizes the market. This has been happening in game development, especially on mobile app stores, in the past few years. And just as you wouldn’t hire a Michelin 3-star chief to manage the kitchen at a McDonald’s, to make more of the same games and apps, you create an assembly line for development and hire cheap.

“I see developers as commodities.” said one marketer I met recently. I will be the first to admit I am biased towards the creatives and developers, but the change brought upon us from globalization cannot be ignored. The problem is; it pains me to see clones and copies in the marketplace, most of them much worse than the games and apps they try to clone in the first place. When you see developers and the products you are creating as commodities, you create crap that the world doesn’t need.

And yet, they are making a killing. A marketer showed me his latest game – a terrible clone of a game on the top chart but with added ads and IAP spam. It’s a game that I would be embarrassed to show fellow game developer friends. However, he is making a living creating these games, while many game developers that are creating new and unique games couldn’t even buy coffee with the amount of money they make from their games.

The hollowing out of the middle-class means we are going to see a lot more rich people and a lot more poor people, and not many in-between. This is the force behind Citigroup’s Hourglass theory, where investors focus on serving the super rich and the super poor.

Is The Middle Class Dying


Look at the three lines at the bottom – the majority of people (gamers) are poorer than they were a decade ago! Then of course we are going to see the rise of the equivalent of “Dollar Stores” of games. Cheap and uninspiring, games you play once and regret the minutes spent.

So is it time to put away our loved SDKs and Wacom’s?

Quite the opposite I’d say. More than ever, now it’s the time to go all-in. The Opportunists make their fortunes finding the best opportunities. The Craftsmen will then have to make their fortunes perfecting their crafts.

Go back to the chart above and look at the line at the top. Pay attention to these folks – they are hungry for quality content. In fact, they are hungry for the absolute best in the world. When is the last time you saw a millionaire buying paintings at a swap meet? No, they are at Sotheby’s, competing with each other to be the one who pays the most to the craftsmen.

Sotheby's auctioneer Adrian Biddell

“But video games isn’t art” some might say. That’s besides the point. Games HAS to be art so it can be both Takashi Murakami and Toys”R”Us.

This is where I calmed down from my anger. The Opportunists making cheap knockoffs isn’t wrong. They are merely doing their job. What about the struggling developers? Keep your heads down and keep pumping out unique ideas. No one can copy what’s inside your creative mind. And if you are not doing that, you are making commodities that didn’t get made fast enough nor cheap enough.

Games has to be art, and it only becomes art when the Craftsmen perfect the craft.